Stay hopeful, ex-North Korea detainee tells two U.S. prisoners there

Reuters News
Posted: May 11, 2016 6:05 PM

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) - A Korean-American missionary detained for two years in North Korea, where he served time at a labor camp, said on Wednesday two Americans held in the reclusive country should remain hopeful that U.S. officials will obtain their release.

Kenneth Bae, 47, speaking in Washington at a briefing hosted by U.S. Representative Charles Rangel, a Democrat from New York, also said the rest of the world should remember the suffering of North Korea's citizens.

Bae, the longest held U.S. citizen in North Korea since the Korean War, offered encouragement to Kim Dong Chul and Otto Warmbler, who have been sentenced to hard labor in North Korea. Chul has been accused of subversion and Warmbler of trying to steal a propaganda banner.

"Continue to have hope in the U.S. government that they are doing everything they can to secure your release and also just take one day at a time," Bae said in response to a question from a reporter.

A representative for the North Korean mission to the United Nations could not be reached for comment.

Bae, from Washington state, was arrested in 2012 as he accompanied Christian students on a tour of North Korea and was accused of plotting to bring down the secretive government.

Bae, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, said he was sent to a camp for foreign detainees where about 30 guards kept watch over him as their sole prisoner.

Bae said he had to shovel coal, perform farm chores and dig the earth.

He was released in November 2014 when U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made a secret visit to North Korea and came back with Bae and fellow American Matthew Miller.

Bae, who this month released the book "Not Forgotten" about his experience in North Korea, also described what led to his arrest.

Bae said that on his 18th trip leading tours in the country, North Korean authorities discovered his hard-drive had Western media coverage of such topics as the country's 1990s famine, material which he said was loaded by mistake.

Bae said he was accused of trying to overthrow the government through his Christian worship and by spreading Western ideas.

Religion is ruthlessly suppressed in North Korea, where the only acceptable form of devotion is to the country's ruling family and its supreme leader, Kim Jong-un.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Richard Chang)